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Symphony No. 4 (1978)
commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Chester Music Ltd
Symphony No. 4 (1978)
1. Lento – Allegro
2. Theme and variations
Writing about Lennox Berkeley’s third Symphony in 1969, I noted a toughening of attitude, a more muscular quality both in the material and in the scoring. Although the single-movement work ran for only fifteen minutes, it was less compromising than much of Berkeley’s orchestral music to that date. The fourth Symphony seems to me to continue the tautness of that work but spread now across a more expansive canvas. Scored for a full symphony orchestra, it was commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with support from the Arts Council of Great Britain and is dedicated to Burnet Pavitt.
The symphony, which is in three movements, opens with a sombre introduction, marked Lento. The eight notes heard on the bass clarinet at the outset provide the germ from which the whole of the first movement grows. This initially brooding music leads directly into a 4/4 Allegro that follows fairly closely the classical first movement pattern (though there is no recapitulation). It begins with the notes of the opening transferred to the strings. This lively statement of the theme succumbs to a cantabile phrase before vigorously building to a broad melody heard on the whole orchestra. A development with a pizzicato interlude brings the movement to its agitated coda – Allegra appassionato.
Instead of writing a continuous slow movement, Berkeley has turned to one of his favourite forms; Theme and Variations. The Theme is heard initially on a string quartet. Variation I features the cor anglais in unison with the violas followed by bi-tonal chords on the woodwind that lead into Variation II, a fast Allegro that subsides into a single line for Variation III a Lento beginning on timpani and strings with a gradually rising bass that finally returns to the pedal A from which it began. Variation IV is the other quick section in a predominantly slow movement. The woodwind sets the pace with declamatory outbursts from the brass, and spurred on by percussion (including tom-toms), we reach a tutti climax that soon subsides into the final Variation (V) an Adagio which is brought to a close by muted trumpets reiterating the ever-present tonality of A minor.
The last movement has the feel of an energetic Rondo set in motion by a motif consisting mainly of rising thirds. This interval dominates the movement, appearing in different guises. The forthright character of the opening gives way to strings in close six-part harmony and clusters based now on descending thirds. This is the first of two subsidiary themes; the second, heard principally on the woodwinds, marginally slows the tempo and has a dance like lilt to it. All three themes reppear before the rising thirds are finally allowed to climb their way – Allargando – to their goal.
Discography - Symphony No. 4
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
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